SALT LAKE CITY — Republican candidate for governor Jonathan Johnson released an internal poll Tuesday that his campaign says shows him running close behind Gov. Gary Herbert in the June 28 primary election.
Respondents were asked twice who they'd vote for, once at the start of the automated telephone poll and then after a series of questions highlighting issues Johnson has raised about Herbert, campaign spokeswoman Sasha Clark said.
The governor's 11-point lead at the start of the poll dropped to a single point, with 43 percent saying they'd vote for Herbert compared to 42 percent for Johnson, the chairman of Overstock.com, according to results released by the campaign.
"When people hear the messages that Jonathan has been talking about throughout the entire campaign, they're more likely to vote for him," said Dave Hansen, Johnson's campaign manager.
He said the poll was an effort to identify which issues were having the most effect on voters and was not a so-called push poll, which uses leading questions under the guise of a legitimate survey to "push" respondents toward opposing a candidate.
But the governor's campaign manager, Marty Carpenter, said that's exactly what it was.
"As a campaign, you can use polling to give yourself an accurate understanding of the voters or you can do a push poll that tries to manipulate them. Our campaign has always opted for solid data," Carpenter said, noting that other polls show strong support for Herbert.
The poll referred to Herbert's refusal to pledge not to raise taxes, his previous support for Common Core education standards, a controversial fundraising meeting with lobbyists where he called himself "Available Jones," and his long political career.
The poll surveyed 1,267 Utahns Monday who had participated in the 2012 and 2014 Republican primary elections, Clark said, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.
Fifteen percent of respondents said they were undecided at the end of the poll and Hansen said a challenger in most campaigns should be able to count on those votes breaking 2:1 in his or her favor.
Johnson beat the governor in the delegate vote at the state GOP convention in April. But a UtahPolicy.com poll conducted in May showed 74 percent of Republicans would vote for Herbert in the June primary, compared to 19 percent for Johnson.